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Federal Court Calls for Further Analysis of Missing Information underlying Chukchi Sea Lease Sale

A federal court has determined that the Minerals Management Service (now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement) violated environmental laws in approving a massive oil and gas lease sale in the Chukchi Sea off the north coast of Alaska in 2008.

Earthjustice represented environmental and community groups in a challenge to the lease sale in federal court in 2008 after the Minerals Management Service approved the sale of oil and gas drilling leases in the heart of the Chukchi Sea without adequately analyzing the sale’s potential impacts.

The court determined that the agency failed to meet its legal obligation to analyze the importance of missing basic scientific information about the Chukchi Sea and determine whether it could obtain the information prior to offering leases in the sea. The court also faulted the agency for failing to analyze the potential impacts of possible natural gas development from the lease sale.

The court’s decision shines a spotlight on the need for adequate scientific data before opening sensitive areas of the ocean to risky oil and gas activities. Despite the significance and sensitivity of the Arctic Ocean, there still remains a profound lack of basic knowledge about the sea and the wildlife that inhabits it. No technology exists to clean up an oil spill in Arctic waters and a large oil spill in this sensitive and often harsh climate would have devastating impacts.

“This is an important decision directing the government to consider the need for more information on the Chukchi Sea. We have long argued that more science, more data and more research is needed in the sensitive waters of the Arctic Ocean before oil and gas lease sales or drilling are allowed to occur,” said Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe. “Federal agencies have a basic obligation under the law to fully assess missing information about potential impacts of their actions, and to obtain it if they can, before they act."